The One Bike Conundrum looms in many motorcyclists’ minds — if there is room for only one steed in the stable, what would it be? The enterprising rider that I am, I enjoy sport riding, track days, touring and off-road adventures in equal measure, but some of those activities land on opposites ends of the spectrum. Well, if variety is the spice of riding life, then the 2021 Ducati Multistrada V4 S may be the answer.
2021 is a banner year for the all-new Multistrada ADV platform. When the model made its debut back in 2003, with bodywork penned by Pierre Terblanche and functionality that split the difference between a sport tourer and supermoto, the Multistrada was equipped with a 992cc air-cooled V-twin, dual underseat exhausts, a single-sided swingarm and 17-inch wheels. Revamped for 2010 and sporting a distinctive bird-of-prey beak, the Multistrada 1200 introduced the “four bikes in one” concept, with riding modes and electronics that tailored the experience to sport, touring, urban or enduro riding.
The Multistrada’s performance and versatility made it one of Ducati’s bestsellers, and the model evolved over time. A Granturismo version was the ultimate high-powered sport tourer. An Enduro version added tubeless spoked wheels with a 19-inch front, longer-travel suspension, a bash plate and more. DVT versions added variable valve timing. A 950 version was more accessible. And now, the Multistrada V4.
The Multistrada planted its flag atop the adventure segment’s performance hill long ago, and its new 1,158cc 90-degree V4 Grandturismo engine has all the firepower needed to hold the line, with a potent 170 horsepower at 10,500 rpm and stomping 92 lb-ft torque at 8,750 rpm (claimed). Power is omnipresent, delivering a silky smooth rush of tractable, front-end-lofting superbike acceleration on command. And while Ducati’s sporting prowess is on display, the Multi’s mill is multi-dimensional. A bowlful of creamy bottom-end torque makes it downright civil, touting low-rpm manners that its V-twin-powered predecessor could only dream of, while its generous midrange is perfect for settling into a groove and enjoying the ride. Top it off with a sporty 6-speed gearbox and a nice up/down quickshifter, and it’s easy to see why the Multistrada is one of Bologna’s best.
Those welcoming characteristics aren’t just a pleasure on the street; they’re a godsend during off-road excursions. Enduro mode dials the V4 down to 115 horsepower, allowing me to plod along trails barely above idle without much clutch fiddling, or whack the throttle open and use on-demand torque to steer with the rear. And a Ducati wouldn’t be a Ducati without a soul-stirring exhaust note, and the V4’s twin-pulse firing order acts as an auditory cherry on top.
That raging bull of an engine is pure Ducati, which should come as no surprise since it’s a repurposed version of the V4 Stradale found in Panigale V4 and Streetfighter V4 models. Engineers increased the bore by 2mm to raise displacement while maintaining the Stradale’s stroke, compression ratio and counter-rotating crankshaft. Redline was lowered to a reasonable 11,500 rpm. First gear is shorter for street and off-road work, sixth gear is longer for highway slogs and final drive gearing is longer. But, that news pales in comparison to the lack of a desmodromic valve system. Instead, a conventional spring valvetrain has paved the way for a class-leading 37,232-mile valve service interval — saving you time and money at the dealer.
The side effects of ditching desmo valves aren’t just espresso spit-takes from Ducatisti. It has contributed to a more compact powerplant, reducing its length and height by more than 3 inches compared to the 1260 V-twin, though it is about an inch wider. The engine sits higher in the chassis and, combined with the 19-inch front wheel, boasts over an inch of additional ground clearance.
When plopped in the Multistrada’s luxurious heated dual-height (33.1/33.9 inches), the svelte V4 plays a role in creating a slim seat chassis, allowing my 32-inch inseam legs to flat-foot the deck. It feels narrow and elegant, betraying its claimed 536-pound wet weight. The five-star accommodations are aided by more distance between the saddle and footpegs, and the adjustable handlebar provides all the leverage you’ll ever need when sitting or standing. What’s more, the mirrors are curved back to avoid conflict during stand-up riding on the trail. The windscreen is operated with a gentle push or pull, and protection is more than ample, supplemented by fairings that redirect engine heat away from the rider.
A lightweight aluminum monocoque chassis and steel-trellis subframe pull all the threads together. To compensate for the larger 19-inch front wheel, a shorter wheelbase is bolstered by more aggressive rake and trail figures, making this heavyweight ADV extremely light on its feet.
As with all flagship Ducatis, a smorgasbord of Bosch 6-axis IMU-supported electronics are standard fare and four riding modes (Sport, Touring, Urgan and Enduro) radically change the bike’s character on a whim. Engine power, traction control, ABS, hill-hold control, wheelie control and semi-active suspension damping, and preload settings can also be customized diving into the 6.5-inch TFT display’s menu. Preload has four preset settings adjusted by a dedicated button on the left cluster, as well as an auto-leveling function that calculates laden-weight precisely.
In Sport mode the Marzocchi Skyhook suspension becomes taut, letting you flick the Multistrada V4 into corners with precision and lean angles that would embarrass more than a few leather-clad lads on sportbikes. Crisp throttle response and rider aids that allow plenty of naughtiness are things that Ducati engineers and I seem to agree on, though a tad more throttle smoothing in this mode wouldn’t hurt. Sport mode never sacrifices comfort, and it became my default mode on the street. I hardly missed the 17-inch front wheel, and given the quality of premium sport-touring rubber these days, a track day wouldn’t be out of the question.
Urban and Touring relax the Multistrada, each softening the chassis to suit city streets, battered back roads or long-haul interstates. In these situations, the new Adaptive Cruise Control and Blind Spot Detection come into their own. Adjustable for three distance levels, the ACC maintains the Multistrada’s distance from other vehicles, accelerating and decelerating as needed based on information gathered from the bike’s radar. Come up on a car too quickly, and the Multistrada will engage the brakes to avoid a collision. Commuters will appreciate Blind Spot Detection, illuminating an LED on the rearview mirrors and warning you of incoming traffic.
A trip to Borrego Springs, California, wouldn’t be complete without some off-roading. In Enduro mode, we cranked up the suspension and lowered the PSI of our Pirelli Scorpion Rally tires with positive results. In another betrayal of its weight and size, the Multi’s long-travel electronic suspension takes hard hits in stride, the 19-inch front wheel tracks through rough terrain well and the chassis is stable as can be — capable of taking on the sand with a competency that its smaller wheeled forefathers lacked.
To get the most out of the Multistrada off-road, I disabled traction control completely — not something I’d normally do on a bike this size. Even when set to level one of eight, the amount of wheel slip is limited and hampers hill climbs on loose, rocky surfaces, which are abundant in the California desert. Thankfully, the V4’s traceability makes it quite managable and power slides are like taking candy from a baby. And the Multistrada’s top-shelf Brembo Stylema front calipers and multi-mode ABS can be depended on, regardless of the terrain.
As a sport tourer, the Multistrada V4 S has solidified its position in the sporting end of the heavyweight ADV class while also upping the ante in terms of touring capability and comfort. Off-road, it flexes new chops that will make anyone want to toss on some goggles and get a dirt ’stache, even if the TC algorithm needs to be refined. In a technology-loaded class, it also raises the bar with Adaptive Cruise Control and Blind Spot Detection.
Whether or not the 2021 Ducati Multistrada V4 S answers the One Bike Conundrum remains to be seen, but if this is the future of ADV motorcycling as we know it, we may be closer than we think.
2021 Ducati Multistrada V4 S Specs:
Base Price: $24,095
Price as Tested: $28,182 (Travel + Radar Packs, Akrapovič Silencer, Engine Guards, Pirelli Scorpion Rally tires, Wire-Spoke Wheels, Enduro Windscreen)
Engine Type: Liquid-cooled, transverse 90-degree V-4, DOHC w/ 4 valves per cyl.
Bore x Stroke: 83.0 x 53.5mm
Transmission: 6-speed, hydraulically actuated assist-and-slipper wet clutch
Final Drive: O-ring chain
Wheelbase: 61.7 in.
Rake/Trail: 24.5 degrees/4.0 in.
Seat Height: 33.1/33.9 in.
Wet Weight: 532 lbs. (claimed)
Fuel Capacity: 5.8 gals.